Bridging the innovation gap – IP creation
Everybody active in R&D knows that there are situations when progress seems to be too slow or the evolution becomes stuck along the way. Often, the development is trapped in what we call the innovation gap. A case example illustrates the 'IP creation' approach to drive a company's transformation toward becoming more inventive. This can be particularly important for businesses in traditional industries that seek to accelerate their innovation rate.
Visionary leaders of countries and companies are encouraging the design and implementation of new approaches to improve innovation, research and development. Companies, meanwhile, request systematic processes to develop novel technology solutions and protect them by creating IP. In the following, we explain how our approach encourages innovation and generates IP.
The innovation roadmap
In order to develop a roadmap for its innovation path, a company needs to be aware of current trends influencing the competitive environment, such as changing demand patterns, growing technological complexity and evolving business models.
It requires a sound information base to capture these trends. Here, IP and IPR-based data come into play. The richness of IP data provides orientation to determine competitor movements, predict customer demand and identify changing or emerging business models. Technology, product trends and life cycles are detected through IPR assessments and, occasionally, even new business opportunities are revealed.
Several questions arise in developing the innovation roadmap, including:
- How do we measure innovativeness?
- What inspires potential inventors to generate cutting-edge solutions in a reasonable time?
Once the innovation roadmap is determined, concrete steps to enhance innovativeness can utilize IP data to achieve two main objectives.
Objective 1: IP as an indicator of innovativeness
With the number of IPR applications and grants being an accepted indicator of innovativeness, the first objective in bridging the innovation gap is to generate enough invention disclosures. In turn, that will allow for increased patent application activity.
Objective 2: IP as an inspiration for innovation
Research success is almost universally based on tremendous effort, from reviewing existing literature and collecting comprehensive data, to creatively analyzing and synthesizing it. Together with the occasional flash of inspiration, a defined problem is solved in a new way. The patent literature is of particular interest in this context as, by their very nature, patents reveal the technology that is "out there." Yet, given that approximately 14 million patents are in force worldwide, a simple search-and-read-approach is not feasible. Thus, the second objective in bridging the innovation gap is to inspire creativity through tailored and relevant information derived from patent literature.
Achieving the objectives – an adequate number of patent applications generated with reasonable effort – led us to develop an approach that we named the "IP creation workshop."
Our project example illustrates the approach, framing the IP creation workshop's topic as "Maintenance cleaning for a plant in extreme environments." Overall, the objective of the assignment was to contribute to the company's goal of becoming an innovation leader and role model. Coming from a "buy" mode of thinking, the client requested support to change toward a "make and create" mode of innovation. Besides strategic, organizational and process questions for several IP management topics, we introduced and piloted IP generation. To support the transformation toward innovativeness, we developed a series of IP creation workshops and ran the pilot. [Due to the project's confidentiality, especially when it comes to inventions that are not yet published, details have been generalized or anonymized in the text.]
Before starting any IP creation, its objective, resources and responsibles have to be defined. Companies aim to develop workable solutions, apply their resources and comprise new features that, in turn, can be protected. In doing so, they intend to drive a transformation toward higher innovativeness. In return, any effective IP creation program needs to contribute to corporate objectives, create value and be scalable.
In the use case scenario, we mainly had to deal with the transformation aspect: Who acts as a sponsor, who is leading the change? Who influences the game behind the scene? Likely, the efforts to create awareness, to set the right ambition and to align every step and the outcome are underestimated. We convinced a multitude of different stakeholders before, during and after the IP creation pilot that the new way is favorable and beneficial.
The project team members are appointed purely on the merit of their specific experience in the relevant technology and market conditions, with an IP expert completing the small and efficient team. A facilitator is responsible for keeping focus and discipline through methodological experience and knowledge of creativity tools and their application. External support can be sought where in-house capabilities are deemed insufficient.
In our project, one major success factor was the open and intense collaboration of a handful of carefully selected technology experts, business and customer care people, IP consultants and an experienced facilitator.
Three steps in the course of IP creation
We start by identifying and breaking down the problem, such as how to overcome a technical challenge with our next product iteration, or how to answer a customer demand with a new product, or how to boost efficiency and raise competitiveness and at the same time lower costs. Stripping away non-relevant aspects identifies the core of the technology problem. Based on experience and prior research, known solutions are collected. Different techniques can be used to stimulate the team to create other ideas to solve the problem or to circumvent the root cause. Finally, rough descriptions of the potential solutions are drafted.
The second step centers on novelty. Potential new features, approaches and parts are identified by examining the collected solutions. A comparison with state-of-the-art solutions and a prior art search in the IP literature determines the potential invention's novelty and assesses if it has been published before.
In the last step, the invention description is finalized. It comprises a draft of the new elements - a description of how the elements need to be organized, structured or ordered to create the inventive solution (this can be a novel element itself). Embodiments and figures are sketched and, in a best-case scenario, the activity will result in one or more invention disclosures that can be driven toward drafting and filing technological IPR.
Recap of the use case scenario
We had to determine a solution for improving the maintenance cleaning of a plant working in extreme environments. Besides its regular function, the large vessel's contact with dust, wind and temperature changes shortens its lifetime. Diligent inspections and routine maintenance actions are time and cost-intense and pose a risk of exposure to hazardous substances. In three workshop units, lasting around 3 – 6 hours each, we assessed new ways to avoid or remove external soiling and thereby to make the maintenance cleaning more efficient and less risky. For stimulation, we searched for:
- Self-cleaning surfaces
- Alternative materials and shapes
- Automated and autonomous maintenance devices.
The workshop team generated several ideas on how to:
- Minimize manual work (e.g., people working on-site)
- Reduce process material (e.g., no detergents or less water for cleaning)
- Decrease maintenance cycles (e.g., by other types of surveillance).
While looking for novelty elements, we identified a specialized device that can work autonomously and described the new solution at a level of detail that makes it ready to be drafted as a patent application.
The IP creation process described above has been successfully employed several times by implementing a new mode of thinking and working in companies, and taking IP creation from the aspirational to the operational level. Our approach enables employees to become more innovative and the hands-on knowledge transfer was highly appreciated.
The company in our use case scenario is now seeking IP protection for the developed solution. Specific technology intelligence was built to move forward in the transformation toward becoming a leader in this field. Dependencies on suppliers and their technologies can be reduced in the future. The probability of creating license income from IP was raised, and a better negotiation position was reached.
Our IP creation approach demonstrates that the innovation gap can be bridged and capitalizes on experience, talent and potential. Engaged participants, rising numbers of IP applications and satisfied customers prove the approach's success across technologies, regions and industries. Do you need assistance with your IP creation and innovation roadmap orientation? Get in touch with our IP consultants today.
The article was first published on the Insights section of the The Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) website, on April 11, 2020.